Pakistan under scrutiny: were any of these games fixed?

As allegations shift from spot-fixing to the possibility that entire matches have been rigged, Stephen Brenkley sifts the evidence
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During a long and tumultuous week, the monster of match-fixing has grown to irrepressible levels. It is stalking the world of cricket like Godzilla, taking all before it.

From the allegation that three no-balls were delivered to order by Pakistan bowlers in the second Test at Lord's, suspicions have fallen, almost by the hour, on the results of entire matches. One has led to another, the beast gorging and multiplying.

At various points, the ICC has been reported as investigating more than 80 matches played by Pakistan in the last two and a half years. Or it is definitely probing at least four specific results in which suspect players have been involved.

The ICC is confirming or denying nothing, refusing to comment on "ongoing investigations". The wholly rational suggestions that whole matches are difficult to rig, and are probably not being rigged, has been brushed aside.

That players have been approached by dodgy characters has been taken as evidence of wrongdoing when it is quite the reverse because players have in almost every case reported the approaches to the ICC – as they are meant to do.

Several matches have been specifically named, either in the News of the World, which unquestionably did cricket a favour with its initial expose, or elsewhere as pundits appear to alight on them. Here are four favourites in the rigging conspiracy theorists' armoury.

Australia v Pakistan Second Test, Sydney, January 3 to 6, 2010

This is the fixing story that will never go away even if the entire Pakistani team were to swear affidavits, give up all their worldly goods and retire en masse to spend their days in purdah unable to bear the opprobrium of a sceptical world.

But if the result was indeed rigged, it was a masterpiece of the diabolical art. Pakistan led by 206 runs after both teams had completed their first innings and then had Australia in their second innings on 257 for 8, meaning the tourists were 51 behind. At this point, Pakistan were clear favourites.

But Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper, dropped four catches, including the Aussie saviour, Mike Hussey, on 12, 45 and 52 as he went on to 134 not out. Then again, he is a dreadful keeper.

As the ninth-wicket stand between Hussey and Peter Siddle wore on, the field placings grew too defensive, meaning singles were easily surrendered. But Pakistan had three close lbw appeals turned down and twice made referrals against which were rejected.

Eventually needing 176 to win, Pakistan, clearly nervous, lost regular wickets. The much-maligned International Cricket Council looked closely at the turn of events immediately afterwards and concluded that it was a dysfunctional tour – "but no evidence that those things were in any way for financial gain".

Pakistan v West Indies Champions Trophy semi-final, Rose Bowl, 22 September 2004

If there was one incident to suggest this match was not fixed, it came when Brian Lara, the world's leading batsman, walked in to face the world's fastest bowler, Shoaib Akhtar. Akhtar, it was reported afterwards, told Lara jokingly that he was going to kill him.

When Lara was on 31, with the West Indies closing in on their target, Akhtar duly hit him with a bouncer on the head. Lara collapsed at the crease and for a few heart-stopping moments, the worst was feared. Hardly the approach of a team who had agreed to lose the match.

Unless, of course, like so many other facets of the conspiracy theorists' world, it was a case of double bluff: remove the top man any way you can so people think you are trying. On Sunday, the News of the World added this match to the pile.

Eyebrows were raised when Inzamam-ul-Haq batted on winning the toss – in England on a damp morning in early autumn – but at 65 for 1 it was going swimmingly. The collapse was prompted when Yasir Hameed was brilliantly run out by Dwayne Bravo from third man and given unstoppable impetus when Mohammad Yousuf edged a good ball from Bravo behind.

If the loss of seven wickets for 31 was undeniably sloppy, nobody thought it was anything but smart West Indies cricket, allied to Pakistan feebleness under pressure. When Akhtar bowled like the wind to remove the openers, Pakistan were trying all right. Ask Brian Lara.

Sri Lanka v Pakistan Asia Cup, Dambulla, 15 June, 2010

This match marked the return of Shoaib Akhtar and the formal elevation to the captaincy of Shahid Afridi. Akhtar tore into the opposition and Afridi made his first one-day century for five years.

Suggestions that Pakistan threw the match are probably based on their upper-order collapse in chasing 243 to win, when they stumbled to 32 for 4. The Cricinfo website report said that they "seemed incompetent or uninterested in the chase".

Afridi, however, all but turned the match around single-handedly. He had two crucial partnerships with the Akmal brothers, Umar and Kamran, but they were both run out – Umar calling for a suicidal single, Kamran sent back by Afridi after backing up. To observers they seemed like the efforts of men desperately keen to win, not intent on losing. But if the fix was in, Afridi was doing his damnedest to make sure it did not come off. He was assailed by cramp and perished only when Kumar Sangakkara took a magnificent catch standing up to Muttiah Muralitharan.

Even then Pakistan were in the hunt, but Lasith Malinga returned with reverse swing and clever slower balls. He was simply much too incisive for the tail.

Afridi was so distraught and tired after the 16-run defeat that he did not make the presentation ceremony.

Australia v Pakistan First Test, Lord's, July 13 to 16, 2010

At least one newspaper gave a knowing nudge and a wink after Pakistan's second innings imploded on the fourth day. There were others, refusing to forget the long ago past, or to recognise that a raw side might easily be fragile when confronted by Australian machismo, who were similarly convinced that it was lost too easily.

So it was, in the end, but for anybody wishing deliberately to lose a match, being bowled out by Shane Watson in the first innings and Marcus North in the second might not be the wisest option to avoid suspicion. The occasional medium-pacer took 5 for 40 and the occasional off-spinner took 6 for 55 in the first neutral Test to be played in England for 98 years. But for three days Pakistan were in the contest on a pitch that simply cannot have been to their liking, with a new captain, Shahid Afridi (left), and two debutants in the top five.

Afridi played crazily in both innings but the charges laid against him have always been of sharpish practice in pursuit of Pakistan victory. Salman Butt, who was to take over the captaincy from Afridi after the match, has been suspended, of course, for his supposed part in the no-balls against England allegedly delivered to order.

And it has been revealed that he is being investigated for previous misdeeds. Yet in this Test Butt scored 63 and 92 and was man of the match.

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